U-M offers opportunity, access through nationally renowned summer debate camp

Six Metro Nashville Public School students participated in U-M's annual summer debate camp. The students were connected to the camp through Connexion Américas, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization that helps create opportunities for low- and moderate-income Latino families. (Courtesy of Alexza Barajas Clark)

Six Metro Nashville Public School students participated in U-M’s annual summer debate camp. The students were connected to the camp through Connexion Américas, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization that helps create opportunities for low- and moderate-income Latino families. (Courtesy of Alexza Barajas Clark)

In the same way that so many world-class University of Michigan programs use their sustained excellence to develop recruiting pipelines, the Michigan National Debate Institute is leveraging its success as a way to create opportunities for students across a wide range of backgrounds.

The institute is a three-week residency policy debate workshop with a curriculum designed for high school debaters of every experience level. Every year for more than 30 years, the summer camp has brought upwards of 400 high school debaters from nearly 40 states onto campus. This year’s camp, which ran from June 22-July 9, was no exception.

“Every top university in the country has debate and summer camps and we’re competing with places like Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and so many other great institutions,” says Aaron Kall, director of debate at U-M.

“I think it really speaks to the level of our camp that for the last 12 years, the high school national debate champ has come from the Michigan summer debate camp.”

That long-standing history of excellence—paired with strong ties to members of debate communities across the nation—led Kall to establish a partnership with Alexza Barajas Clark. Clark is a research and communications manager for the Nashville-based Conexión Américas, a nonprofit organization that helps create opportunities for low- and moderate-income Latino families.

Through the partnership, U-M and Conexión Américas provided scholarships for six Metro Nashville Public School students at this year’s camp. Those six MNPS students attending the debate camp are members of the Nashville Debate League, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 to bring policy debate programs to that area. The league operates, in part, through generous Nashville funders.

The participating students from Nashville were sophomores Herberth Sanchez and Brunny Lopez from Glencliff High School, sophomore David Martinez from Overton High School and juniors Angie Rodriguez, Vanessa Hernandez and Paola Pastor from Lead Academy.

“I think that for a lot of these students, debate could be the change agent they need to overcome many adversities they might face in life. For me, it was debate and college that finally gave me my voice,” says Barajas Clark.

“It gave me access to literature that I never knew existed. I was never an A-plus student or anything like that, but I knew I never wanted to lose or be humiliated. So I think debate, as a tool, is a wonderful opportunity, especially for students of color.”

Kall says that aside from providing a unique experience for the Nashville students, creating opportunities like this fits in with the university’s mission to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Debate introduces a new path to U-M for students who might not have otherwise seen that as a possibility.

“Every year we have over 100 students with high school debate experience apply and the vast majority of them attend summer camp here. Maybe 20 percent are offered admission and wind up coming here to U-M,” Kall says.

He adds: “We’re thrilled to join with Conexión Américas on this innovative partnership. Diversity, equity and inclusion are major priorities and this relationship increases our ability to attract top academic students from around the country to Ann Arbor for part of the summer. We have great hope that a positive camp experience will propel these students to strongly consider the University of Michigan as a top choice for college.”

By Jeremy Allen
Public Affairs

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